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What are towbars?
Going on a trip in a caravan? Want to take your boat down to the water for a day of fishing? Got a huge amount of trash that needs to go to the dump and only want to make one trip? To do these things you may need a trailer, a vehicle with enough oomph to haul the load, and a towbar.
In simple terms, the towbar is a component that is secured to a vehicle’s chassis (the structural frame of a vehicle) and, using a coupling system (often a tow ball system) securely mates to the trailer or caravan.
In the past, knowing what towbar to fit was as simple as selecting the correct vehicle and optioning the towbar to be fitted. These days there is much more thought needed to go into towbar selection. Different weight ratings, styles and the towing you are planning on doing all need to be looked at to determine the correct towbar choice.
Types of towbars
Before we mention types of towbars, it is important to look at the vehicle you’ll be using to do that work. Is it suitable for towing what you want? If you have a small hatchback and are looking to tow a caravan around Australia, it might be time to upgrade to something a bit larger! The owner's manual of your vehicle will give you the basic guidelines of how much the vehicle is rated to tow. This is known as the Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) The weight of the vehicle, cargo inside the vehicle and trailer must not exceed the maximum GVM for that vehicle, otherwise you will be operating the vehicle illegally, as well as putting other motorists in danger.
The next thing you need to decide on is the amount of weight you will be towing - this will in turn decide which class of towbar is right for you. There are three main classes for towbars in Australia - Class 2, 3 and 4. These classes can also be known as Light or Medium Duty.
Class 2, or Light Duty, towbars are designed for small towing loads, such as 6 x 4 trailers, or fitting bike racks and other components. They often are not fitted with an easily removable towbar tongue, as it tends to be bolted on underneath the main towbar assembly. They are rated up to 1200kg. Class 3, or Medium duty, towbars are rated up to 1600kg and are more suited to towing small boats and jet skis, as well as larger box and enclosed trailers. These towbars have an easily removable towbar tongue, which uses a retaining clip and pin to secure the tongue to the main towbar assembly.
The largest towbar available is Class 4. These towbars are usually rated to the maximum towing capacity of the vehicle for which they are designed and can handle almost anything you can throw at them. This is the towbar you need if you’re towing a caravan, car trailer or large boat.
Reasons for installing a towbar
Towbars may not be aesthetically pleasing but if you are into camping, boating, or adventures in general, a towbar is essential and will make all those undertakings simple and accessible. On a more practical day-to-day note, they allow for the removal and hauling of large amounts of ‘things’ - stick a trailer to the back of your vehicle and removing household junk or garden refuse is a breeze and you could even save some money on delivery fees when you buy that new piece of furniture or household appliance.
You may even find yourself being a good Samaritan one day and able to do a good deed by towing someone’s broken down car to the nearest garage.
Who can install a towbar?
Once you’ve decided on the type of towbar you need, the next step is installation. If you’re handy with the tools, a DIY installation may be an option for you, or you can pay for installation by a professional. There are pros and cons to both options, so it’s best to work out each to see which option is best for you.
Some vehicles require the rear bumper to be cut to fit the towbar, as well as a wiring harness and programming to be carried out, which is where a professional installer will beat out a DIY installation. It will also include a warranty on parts and labour, which you wont get with a DIY install. However, professional installation costs money, so fitting the towbar yourself will come in cheaper.
Professional installers usually work out of a dedicated workshop, but many now offer mobile installation, which is a great option if you cannot make it down to a workshop to have the installation carried out.
Things to consider when installing a towbar
First and foremost, ensure that the towbar being fitted is the right one for your vehicle and your requirements. Note that your vehicle may require adjustments to suspension and transmission set-ups to deal with very heavy loads.
Remember also that just fitting a towbar does not mean you are immediately ready for a cross-country jaunt. You’ve added a heavy load to the back of your vehicle and driving safely with that attached does take some skill. Get some practice in somewhere nice and quiet before hitting the streets.
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